Review of Red Joan

The WI-Flyers Cinema Club had its first cinema outing on Friday 10thMay 2019. 

We met up at Vue Farnborough to see Red Joan, starring the sublime Dame Judy Dench, the dashing Tom Hughes (who plays Prince Albert in Victoria) and the equally handsome Ben Miles (who portrayed Peter Townsend – Princess Margaret’s flamboyant husband – in The Crown).  What a cast!  

Joan Stanley is a widow living out a quiet retirement in the suburbs when, shockingly, the British Secret Service places her under arrest.  She is charged with having provided classified scientific information – including details on the building of the atomic bomb – to the Soviet government for decades.  

Sophie Cookson (Roxy in Kingsman, The Secret Service) plays the young Joan Stanley studying physics at Cambridge.  She becomes entangled with Communists and radical politics through her friend Sonya and Leo (Tom Hughes), a German Jew.  Her story, which reaches as far back as 1938, is recalled in flashbacks as Joan in old age is questioned by the Special Branch.  The questioning reveals that Joan was more concerned about “levelling the playing field” in the postwar world rather than communism.  

This film is loosely based on a true story: Melita Norwood worked at the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association as a secretary and supplied the Soviet Union with nuclear secrets.  The materials that Norwood betrayed to the USSR hastened the pace at which the Soviets developed nuclear bomb technology.  

The film got mixed reviews – but we all really enjoyed it.  It wasn’t a blockbuster, more low budget – a restrained and reserved English production.  But that was, absolutely, not a bad thing!  Films don’t always have to be glitz and glamour and Hollywood razzmatazz.  Some stories are better told in a low key, more prosaic way, and this was one of them.